Foredown Tower Reopening

After several years of dereliction, Foredown Tower in Portslade has reopened as a learning and visitor centre.

It is no accident that Foredown Tower sits on a wind-swept hill, a fair old distance from the majority of people living in Brighton & Hove. After all, it originally served as the water tower for Foredown Hospital, a sanatorium for those with infectious diseases.

Construction of the hospital began in 1883, a time when there were no houses at all in the vicinity, and its water tower in 1909. The hospital was demolished in 1988 though a terracotta plaque which bears the date AD 1833 survives in the wall of the fairly non-descript housing development that replaced it. Each was a typically solid Victorian structure with the potential to last hundreds of years. The tower was spared fortunately and reopened in 1991 as home to a camera obscura.

The camera lives at the very top of the tower, within a large room that consists of the old water tank itself along with a raised section above with a pitched roof and windows. There are around ten camerae obscurae (I love that plural) in the UK which makes it all the more upsetting that ours is not yet fully open to the public.

I was recently invited by Foredown Tower’s Centre Development Officer, Jayne Routley, to attend a reopening ceremony with Mike Weatherley MP to commemorate the building’s new role as an adult education hub. A programme of works is now underway to adapt the building for its new use. This has so far seen repairs to the path and will eventually see the replacement of the current unsuitable windows. The famous camera obscura won’t be open fully open to the public for some time yet.

My recent trip up to Foredown Tower reminded me of just how much I love non-residential Victorian architecture. Not only were Victorian waterworks, stations, schools and hospitals built to last, they are each packed with use-related paraphernalia. Whether it be the tower’s water tank and its over-sized ballcock, or the water corporation’s iron boundary markers outside (with the location removed to apparently confuse the Germans), or the hospital’s speaking tubes (like those on battleships) which are now gone forever, the features are fascinating.

Courses at Foredown start in January and will, to my pleasure, include some local history classes by popular local lecturer Sarah Tobias. See www.portslade.org.